H. WON TAI CHI INSTITUTE
Although briefly, I did push hands with Boyd and some of his top students five years ago when I went to his yearly 3-day camp in September 2007. The camp was held in Eagle Camp in South Hero Island, VT. For the pushing hands, we went to the camp's tennis courts. One of the senior students that I push with was Kevin Costa, who has a snake style school. This guy is from the Bronx and I remember him because he also tried to recruit me to join the snake style network.
There was nothing remarkable about the experience of pushing hands "snake style" except that there was no power at all, no sweat, no heavy limbs, no explanation of internal principles (intent, connection, CABR, etc.) or body structure. There were no external signs of internal power. As Sonny put it when I explained my experience to him, they have "no pop." And there was absolutely nothing internal going on. Their push hands was a mere external imitation of advanced forms real push hands. They pretty much saw it as an exercise of relaxation, to feel the partner. In fact, this guy Costa went as far as saying that Power push hands does nothing for the one pushing (A). He gave me the shoulder, couldn't push/move me and said "what that does for me? nothing."
It's funny, because I do remember Boyd talking about the so called "internal principles of the snake style" in connection to the form (e.g., the Qua), but not in relation to push hands. This shows no unity in his system.
The specific instance of pushing hands with Boyd happened when another of his senior students (those guys have been training with him since the 80's), was trying to show me a form of single-joint push hands. Boyd was passing by and he did the "push hands drill" with me for a few minutes. He pretty much explained the movement and that was it. No word about intent, no principles; only an external form. It was about imitating the movement and making it look good. The push hands resembled push hands forms from chen style or wing chung that I have seen. One thing that I remember is that nobody saw pushing hands with Bob Boyd as a privilege or something special like in our school when people come to class mainly to push with SIFU. There were no special request like 'would you push me?' nor lines to push with the guy. As a matter of fact, no one calls him "sifu" and nobody bows to him.
There are a lot of things in the snake style that are very different from our method of teaching. For instance, there was an attempt of "teaching" the knife form in a few hours (it took me several months to learn the real knife form). Of course, there was no attention to details (angles, chops, directions, feet movement, lines of power, the role of the left hand, etc.). Once, we were doing the form and Boyd added a strange push as part of a transitional movement of the form, as if he had license to alter the form. Another time, he was talking about the subject of energy and ended up saying: 'you just keep practicing with the hope that the power will come to you.' I pretty much attended all the sessions of the camp except for an advance training session of chi gong for the seniors... students :) By the second day of the camp, I have lost interest in what the snake style had to offer and spend more time admiring nature at South Hero and sleeping/resting to get ready for my upcoming week of Classical Tai Chi Chuan training in NYC.
In fact, this whole experience of the snake style camp reminded me very much about the tale of the Six Blind Men and the Elephant that I read years earlier. Actually, it is worst because it is not a misconception or fallacy of the real system but rather a well orchestrated commercial gimmick, as the attendance to this camp qualified the attendees to join the snake style network. Good thing that I had trained with SIFU H. Won Gim for little over six months and was able to separate the wheat from the chaff.
by Samuel Martinez